Nuggets’ attention turns to Golden State after humbling loss: “Every small detail matters”

Denver’s fourth-quarter collapse against the Lakers Sunday night was so pitiful it made Malik Monk and Austin Reaves look like Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.

The two combined for 36 points in the fourth quarter and overtime of Sunday’s loss, which was simultaneously meaningless in the grand scheme of the playoff picture, but an ugly reminder of what can happen if the Nuggets let their guard down.

The first-round playoff matchup against the Warriors starting Saturday was coming regardless of whether or not the Nuggets could hold onto a 17-point fourth-quarter lead against the LeBron-less Lakers. But on a smaller scale, against a less-lethal duo than the one prepping in San Francisco, the Lakers seized on a team that wasn’t sharp.

“Not saying it doesn’t matter much, but we got bigger things ahead,” said Bryn Forbes, who scored 24 points and had five 3-pointers but had some defensive miscues in the fourth quarter.

Forbes hadn’t played in three of the Nuggets’ five previous games, raising the question as to what degree he’ll be called upon in the first round against Golden State. The margin for error on defensive lapses and miscommunications will be minimal. Others who played in the fourth quarter — Davon Reed, Zeke Nnaji, Vlatko Cancar, Markus Howard — are either ineligible for the playoffs (Reed, Howard) or returning from extended absences. It’s unlikely any of them will be featured against the Warriors.

Nevertheless, the disgusted look on coach Michael Malone’s face as he watched a double-digit lead melt away indicated the result wasn’t meaningless to him, despite which players were available. There were lazy closeouts, open backdoor cuts and an inability to contain either one of the Lakers’ snipers. Unless that changes, and it could with Denver’s regular starters active, that level of attention will lead to a swift first-round humbling assuming the Warriors are healthy.

“Focus and the attention to detail has got to be at a much higher level than the regular season,” Forbes said. “… I like (the matchup vs. Golden State). No matter who we had, I think we’re ready for it.”

Veteran center DeMarcus Cousins wasn’t nearly as dejected as Malone in the wake of Sunday’s loss. He seemed to have already mentally turned his focus toward the Warriors. Over the Nuggets’ final 10 games (6-4), Cousins said he reinforced to his team the need to instill winning habits.

“Playoffs, every possession matters,” Cousins reiterated. “… Every small detail matters.”

As an example, Cousins cited something as basic as using both hands when catching a pass. The upcoming week of preparation would be no different, he said.

“I’ll definitely be speaking up a lot as well,” said Cousins.

If Malone wasn’t there to explain his initial reaction to the Warriors’ matchup — his postgame news conference ended after less than a minute — at least Cousins was.

He mentioned their two Hall of Fame-bound shooters – Curry and Thompson – and their championship DNA. He noted how this next week would be about sharpening the Nuggets’  focus and, hopefully, getting their turnovers under control. Since Jan. 1, Denver’s 15.1 turnovers per game rank 29th in the NBA.

Give a team like that fuel, and “it can get ugly,” Cousins said.

The Nuggets have their work cut out for them. Curry and Thompson need but a small window to get to their devastating shot, and Denver’s defense will be tested in ways that will expose effort and engagement.

“This is real basketball,” Cousins said. “This is when your talent has to come out.”

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